The PSOE now holds 120 seats out of 350 – for a majority, they would have needed an unlikely 176, and although forcing Spain back to the polls for the second time in six months was bound to take its toll on the party, the reduction from 123 seats is not major.
But it does mean Sánchez will need to be much more open this time around to striking deals with other left-wing parties since, as opposition team with similar values to the PSOE’s point out, the country would not forgive him if he made them vote a third time.
And, as Unidos Podemos’ Pablo Iglesias said in his post-results speech, what had been an ‘historic opportunity’ in April of ‘creating a progressive government’ has now become ‘a historic necessity’ since it is ‘the only way to keep the far-right out’.
Centre-right Ciudadanos’ change in direction seen in April has taken its toll, with Albert Rivera’s party losing a whopping 47 seats, dropping to just 10 and seeing it plunge from the third political force in Spain to the sixth, just two seats above pro-independence liberals Junts Per Catalunya (JxCAT) and three more than the Basque National Party (PNV).
Until April, Rivera had styled his party as a moderate centrist outfit, only allowing the PP to govern in exchange for stringent anti-corruption measures and supporting the move to oust them when they failed to adhere to the conditions – and having attempted in 2016 to pact with Sánchez’s PSOE.
But in the run-up to the April elections, Ciudadanos became more right-leaning, the PP led by Pablo Casado even further right, and a coalition between the two and rising far-right party Vox was under serious discussion.
The PP has partially recovered from its débacle in April, when it fell from a previous 123 to 66 seats, rising again to 88.
But the dramatic difference yesterday was the huge surge in votes for far-right Vox, led by Santiago Abascal – a gender-violence denier who wants to clamp down on immigration and makes repeated calls for ‘patriotism’.
From nothing in 2018, Vox acquired 12 seats out of 110 in Andalucía’s regional Parliament in December and, this April, gained 24 – which it has now more than doubled, with 52, making it the third political force in the country.
Left-wing Unidos Podemos – which has now changed its name to ‘Unidas’ Podemos, in the feminine rather than the neutral – dropped from 42 to 35, but remains the fourth-largest party in Spain.
Podemos breakaway group Más País!, led by its former speaker Íñigo Errejón, was running for the first time and was disappointed with its three seats, but this was about what was predicted in the polls and, at the moment, it is an unknown quantity.
But Errejón’s speech mirrored that of Podemos’ Pablo Iglesias, appealing to the PSOE’s ‘sense of responsibility’ and the need to form a government, ‘put aside personal ambition’ and realise it would be ‘unrealistic to attempt to govern alone’, as this would be the only way to keep the far-right out of government.
Despite losing two seats, the Catalunya Left Republicans (ERC) moved up from the sixth- to the fifth-largest political outfit in the country with 13 seats, outstripping Ciudadanos.
First-ever seat for Teruel Existe
And for the first time, the southern Aragón provincial party Teruel Existe gained a seat.
The name dates back decades when the proclamation ‘Teruel Exists’ became the political slogan of the ultra-rural, mountainous province whose capital ‘city’ is home to just 35,000 inhabitants and where over 80% of the population live in villages of fewer than 30 residents.
It was borne out of the ongoing dissatisfaction with poor central government funding condemning it to an ageing and rapidly-declining population and extreme lack of basic services – some villages have no internet or mobile phone coverage because the potential customer base is too small for it to be economically viable for operators to set up networks.
Teruel Existe, as a social and political movement, has existed for well over 20 years, and this is the first time it has ever gained a seat in national Parliament.
It is likely to support Sánchez’s presidential bid, and another regional party gaining one seat – the PRC from Cantabria – has already confirmed it will do so, as its leader believes the most-voted party should be the one to govern.
Possible pacts: Sánchez will need regional party support
Sánchez will probably also gain support from the Canarian Coalition, which has two MPs now instead of one, and which is centrist in its approach and more concerned with public services and the funding to make them happen than with political values.
The PSOE may gain the backing of the PNV’s seven MPs and possibly the Basque reunification party EH-Bildu, with five.
With these 16 to convince, plus three from Más País!, and 35 from Unidas Podemos, Sánchez would have another 54 ‘yes’ votes to add to his presidency bid on top of the 120 from his own party, giving him 174, with two more needed.
He may get one of these from the Galicia regional party BNG, but could, once again, be forced to rely upon support from ERC, JxCAT, and the two MPs from the CUP – all Catalunya pro-independence parties who, earlier this year, left Sánchez compelled to call an election after they voted down his 2019 budget because he would not allow them a legal referendum on secession.
More important, support from the Catalunya independence parties gained by Sánchez to allow him to govern has been milked by the right-wing parties, who have attempted to convince the electorate that a vote for the PSOE is a vote for the break-up of Spain – even though Sánchez is staunchly against secession.
The PP and Ciudadanos combining would give them just 98 seats – a long way from being able to oust Sánchez – and although the right-wing Navarra regional party NA has another two, their combined 100 would still fall short.
But the PP, especially, is not averse to striking a deal with Vox and would probably do so to keep the left out of government, and Ciudadanos is likely to follow suit.
This would give the right a combined 152, a third of whom would be made up by alt-right MPs – a scenario which has caused Errejón and Iglesias to call for ‘urgent’ negotiations, which they said last night they would be prepared to start ‘tomorrow morning’.
Why ‘most-voted party’ is not automatically in power
Unlike in the UK where the ‘first-past-the-post’ system would have automatically put Sánchez into the presidential headquarters in a minority government, in Spain, where the most-voted party falls short of a majority, it needs to drum up support from enough MPs to reach the requisite 176.
This is because the whole of Parliament is required to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a presidential candidate after he or she – it has always been ‘he’ to date – is formally nominated by the King.
With fewer than 176 ‘yes’ votes, including his own, the candidate is required to undergo a second voting session, where a simple majority – more ‘yes’ than ‘no’ votes – is all that is required.
This means where a party whose values differ from that of the candidates and they do not wish to give a ‘yes’ to him in their name but realise that the important issue is to form a government quickly, they can abstain from voting at all.
But if the candidate fails the second voting round, he is obliged to call a fresh general election.
Until the 2011 elections, all this was a mere formality – only two major parties were gunning for presidency, the PP and the PSOE, sharing in excess of 300 seats between them, so the most-voted would automatically have a majority.
Starting with Podemos and Ciudadanos, then leading on to Vox and Más País!, it is now improbable that any party will ever gain an outright majority again.
Like the UK, Spain uses the D’Hondt system for allocating seats, which gives advantage to the larger, more established parties – for example, for each vote the PP or PSOE earns, a less-well established party may need as many as 14.
Small parties in both countries have long considered this system unjust – and they include pro-animal party PACMA which, if its ballots had been worth the same as those of the PSOE and PP, would have earned several seats in the last few general elections.
With twice as many votes as the Canarian Coalition, which earned two seats, PACMA nevertheless did not earn any at all.
But the D’Hondt system has helped keep the far-right out, since if each vote for Vox – 3.64 million – had been worth the same as each of the PP’s five million or the PSOE’s 6.75 million, it would have gained well over 60 seats, enough to participate in a right-wing coalition which would oust Sánchez.